crimesider

Reputed "El Chapo" associate pleads guilty to drug trafficking

Tomas Arevalo-Renteria, an associate of captured Mexican drug lord Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman (pictured on Feb. 22, 2014), has pleaded guilty in Chicago to drug trafficking. Eduardo Verdugo, AP

CHICAGO - A reputed associate of captured Mexican drug lord Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman has pleaded guilty in Chicago to drug trafficking.

Tomas Arevalo-Renteria's surprise change of plea happened Wednesday in U.S. District Court. It was a blind plea, so it's not based on any deal with prosecutors.

It comes weeks after co-defendant Alfredo Vasquez Hernandez announced he'd plead guilty, then changed his mind.

Hernandez's lawyer has said his client feared for the lives of his family in Mexico after a false Chicago TV report suggested Hernandez would cooperate with prosecutors. That's why he decided to go to trial after all.

On Wednesday, all sides took pains to note Arevalo-Renteria had never cooperated with U.S. officials and never would.

Arevalo-Renteria, Hernandez and Guzman are accused in an alleged $1 billion drug-trafficking conspiracy.

The Chicago Sun-Times reports that Arevalo-Renteria faces 10 years to life in prison, with federal guidelines likely suggesting a sentence of around 30 years. He is due to be sentenced in May, according to the paper.

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